Even after 36 rounds of constant action over three fights, even after years of trash-talking, even after exchanging punches at a news conference and insults through the media, they weren’t finished.
When Marco Antonio Barrera came over to Erik Morales, trying to shake his hand after their relentless, inspiring, bloody battle Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena -- a fight won by Barrera on a majority decision -- Morales tried to throw water in Barrera’s face.
He missed, hitting Barrera’s father, Jorge, instead.
But Morales’ bitterness and anger could not detract from a fight that was as much a victory for boxing as it was for Barrera. A word such as warrior is overused, but it fit on Saturday night in a fight in which there was little or no holding and little or no breaks in the action. Instead there were barrages of punches and counterpunches, overhand rights matched with left uppercuts, body shots balanced with left hooks.
A total of 521 punches connected, Barrera landing 290 of those. Also, 405 power punches connected, Barrera landing 223.
And when it was over, Barrera (59-4, 41 knockouts) had won the rubber match involving these two Mexican fighters, handing Morales only his second loss (47-2, 34) and winning Morales’ World Boxing Council super featherweight title.
Each man had won previously by decision, Morales on a split decision in 2000 at 122 pounds, Barrera by unanimous decision at 126 pounds in 2002.
Saturday night, judge Paul Smith scored the fight a draw at 114-114. Judge Jerry Roth had Barrera winning, 115-113 and judge Larry O’Connell had Barrera on top, 115-114.
A look at their faces after the final bell seemed to indicate that Barrera had won. His face was largely unmarked while Morales had a large purple bruise under his right eye and blood coming from a bent nose.
Right from the start, Morales seemed out of sorts. While Barrera was the aggressor from the opening bell, Morales seemed uncharacteristically tentative, his punches largely missing the mark.
“I felt a little tight early,” Morales conceded. “I couldn’t get my jab off. I didn’t really think I was into the fight until the fourth or fifth round. I know I gave away a lot of early rounds. My body didn’t do what it was supposed to do. My body didn’t respond. I don’t know why.
“You lose, you lose.”
In the middle rounds, Morales seemed to find his rhythm, and his right hand began to find Barrera’s chin.
But every time it appeared he might take over the fight, Barrera answered with a powerful left uppercut or a body-jarring counter punch.
“I wanted to get inside because I thought I was quicker and stronger,” said an elated Barrera. “I did this to show this is what boxing is about. It’s the most rewarding fight of my career.”
Nothing could wipe the smile off Barrera’s face, not even a few drops of bitterness tossed his way.
Before the main event, Rafael Marquez (33-3, 30) successfully defended his International Boxing Federation bantamweight title for the fourth time by scoring a TKO victory over Mauricio Pastrana (31-5-1, 21) of Colombia.
With his right eye nearly swollen shut and a cut around his left eye caused by a head butt, Pastrana did not come out for the ninth round, his corner stopping the fight.
WBC super bantamweight champion Oscar Larios (54-3-1, 35) of Mexico defended his title with a unanimous decision over Nedal Hussein (36-2, 22) of Australia. It was the 15th consecutive victory for Larios, who has not lost in nearly four years.
And in the first title fight of the night, World Boxing Organization mini-flyweight champion Ivan Calderon of Puerto Rico improved his record to 21-0 with four knockouts by dominating Carlos Fajardo (12-5, 8) of Nicaragua, Calderon cruising to a unanimous decision.